Paulette Van Roekens (1896-1988)

img_0150Paulette Van Roekens (1896-1988). Still Life with Lillies, c.1918-20. Oil on artist board, 21 x 24 inches.; 22 x 25 inches in original frame. Signed lower right. Provenance: Katherine Van Roekens to Katherine Collins.

Price on request

A well-known figure in Philadelphia art circles from the 1920s through the 1960s, Paulette Van Roekens enjoyed a long and successful career as a painter and teacher. An impressionist known for her love of color and her robust handling of paint, she applied her creative energies to depicting landscapes, still lifes, and urban scenes, as well as vivacious depictions of people engaged in leisure pursuits and other joyful occupations. As noted by the critic Henry C. Pitz, “She gravitates toward subjects that sparkle with pattern and bright hues—the circus, the theatre . . . the summer life of Philadelphia’s parks . . . The Atlantic beach . . . She responds to the gay and alert aspects of life.1

The daughter of Victor van Roekens, a horticulturalist, and his wife, Jeanne, the artist was born on January 1st 1896 in Chateau-Thierry France, about fifty miles from Paris. Not long after Paulette’s birth, her family immigrated to America, settling in Glenside, Pennsylvania, where Victor established a tree farm.

Van Roekens initiated her artistic training at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (known today as Moore College of Art and Design) in 1915. She went to on to receive the school’s John Sartain Fellowship, and through this means established an enduring friendship with Harriet Sartain, a landscape painter and the dean of the school. Van Roekens later undertook further training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and at the Graphic Sketch Club (known today as the Fleischer Art Memorial). Her teachers during these years included the painter Leopold Seyffert, the sculptor and painter Charles Grafly, and the impressionists Joseph T. Pearson, Jr. and Henry Bayley Snell.

By 1918 Van Roekens was exhibiting her paintings at the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Two years later she began a seven-year teaching stint at the Graphic Sketch Club. In 1923, Van Roekens was appointed to the faculty of Moore College, where she taught drawing and painting. It was there that she met Arthur Meltzer (1893-1989), a painter of landscapes, portraits and still lifes and head of the college’s Fine Arts Department, whom she married in June of 1927. The couple subsequently moved into an old stone farmhouse in Trevose, northeast of Philadelphia, and went on to raise two children in addition to commuting to their jobs in the city. When the state acquired their property in order to build a turnpike, they constructed a new house in Huntingdon Valley, in the Valley Forge area of western Pennsylvania. Van Roekens remained an influential member of Moore College’s Art Department until her retirement in 1961, at which time she was awarded an honorary doctorate. One year later she became professor emeritus.

In addition to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1918-34, 1937-39), Van Roekens also participated in many exhibitions at the Plastic Club in Philadelphia, where she won a gold medal in 1920, and at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where she received a gold medal in 1923. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, she exhibited intermittently at many national venues, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Institute, the National Academy of Design, the Newport Art Association and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. A retrospective of Van Roekens work was held at the Moore Institute of Art in 1961. Her professional affiliations included the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Art Alliance of America and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Paulette Van Roekens died in Huntingdon Valley on January 11th 1988 at the age of ninety-two. Representative examples of her work can be found in public collections throughout Pennsylvania, including the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Graphic Sketch Club, the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia, and the Reading Public Museum.

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